When their side played promotion rivals Arminia Bielefeld in the German second division on March 9, VfB Stuttgart fans did not realize that it would be the last game before the coronavirus lockdown.
A week later, soccer was suspended in Germany and Stuttgart’s “ultras” were focusing instead on helping elderly people and those who are vulnerable during the health crisis.
“A lot of people are ready to put their own egos to one side and come together to help the community,” Clemens Knoedler of Stuttgart ultra group Schwabensturm said. “In the week after the [Arminia] Bielefeld game, it became clear that something would change. We met up and asked ourselves what we were going to do.”
Along with other supporter groups across Germany, Knoedler and his fellow ultras decided to mobilize in support of the community.
Where he once led thousands of Stuttgart fans in cheering on their soccer team, Knoedler now organizes about 80 volunteers to pick up groceries and prescription medicines for those who cannot leave their homes.
The project sprang up in a few days, and now encompasses six districts in Stuttgart and the surrounding area.
“We are doing this for our city... We are ready to help out where we can,” Knoedler said.
Known for their ferocious support and stadium protests, the ultras are the organized front of the Bundesliga’s famous fan culture.
Earlier this year, ultra groups were slammed for tasteless protests against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim owner Dietmar Hopp, who was smeared as a “son of a bitch” in stadiums across the country.
Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge referred to them then as “the ugly face” of soccer, but in recent weeks, they have proved the opposite.
Fans at major clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 have also organized volunteer delivery services similar to the one in Stuttgart, while Bayern supporters have called for food donations.
The ultras’ tight-knit structures make it easier to organize spontaneously in times of crisis, Knoedler said.
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